Rock and Refuge      Psalm 46        June 1, 2008
 
Intro: I don't know about you, but I get depressed if I watch the news too often. Too much destruction, war and injustice makes me feel unsettled.
 
Current News Headlines: Iran, Iraq, famine abroad, inflation at home, and social unrest to name a few.
 
Not that this is anything new. “The nations are in an uproar,” observes Psalm 46, “the kingdoms totter” (v. 6). Since before biblical times, there have been countless civil wars, uprisings, international struggles, and divisive plots hatched by separatists. All too often, ambitious leaders have made selfish grabs for power, while good and noble people have struggled to maintain order and preserve the peace.
 
Truly, there’s nothing new under the sun. So here, then, is the question: In such a troubled world, can we really believe that “The LORD of hosts is with us” (v. 7), a very present help in trouble?

Any witness for
Christ in 21C must be able to deal with this question and answer convincingly. And the answer must be more than the pseudo-spirituality of “May the Force be with you.” If God is not more than a fuzzy feeling, or an intuitive impulse we feel after singing “God Bless America,” God is no God at all, and we might as well pack it in and be done with it. This is not the theology of Scripture, or the answer humanity is looking for.

The Yawheh of the psalmist is more than a mere Force like that relied upon by Jedi Knights in Star Wars. Elohim of Old is not a neutral mystical spirit. He is, instead, the one and only creator and ruler of the universe. Look at the language of the text. God is a “refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (v. 1).
 
The God of Jacob, we’re told, is a “fortress” (v. 7, NIV). He breaks bows, shatters spears and burns shields. If the earth implodes, God is God (v. 2), if the Himalayas are tossed into the depths of the Atlantic, God is God (v. 2); come typhoons, hurricanes and earthquakes, God is God (v. 3).

In short, God is in control. Charismatic separatists and Islamic terrorists may jostle for ultimate power, but they are doomed to fail. No individuals, or movements, or nations can overthrow the agenda of the one true God, the one who is “a great king over all the earth” (Psalm 47:2).

Back to our question: In such a troubled world, can we really believe that “The LORD of hosts is with us” (v. 7), a very present help in trouble?

Yes. God’s presence is not simply a neutral power, like the Force of Star Wars that can be used for either good or evil. Instead, God’s power is directed “for us,” for our good and for our benefit. The original Hebrew of verse 1 actually reads, “God is for us a refuge and strength.”

God is for us. (Not in the sense that God is “for us” and not for anyone else.) In our darkest hour, God comes to us as refuge, strength, fortress, a God who is “for us” all that we need.

Can you think of a time in your life when you needed a rock and a refuge in God? A place to run to and hide from the storms of life? The psalmist says elsewhere that God hides us under the shelter of his wings. A place of safety to rest in until you feel strong enough to go on with your journey.
 
It is God’s very nature to be for us a tower of strength, a rock of Gibraltar, a fortress of protection. This is who God is; this is what God does.

Notice that the psalmist does not refer to God as the God of Abraham, but the God of Jacob. Of all the patriarchs,
Jacob is the scoundrel, fast-talker, wheeler-dealer, snake-oil salesman. But Jacob is also the “go-to” guy who gets the job done, the fellow who doesn’t buy into sentimental claptrap.
 
If God is a refuge and fortress, Jacob’s the one to put it to the test. He’s the one on Gilgal duking it out with the Angel of the Lord, and the one who spent the rest of his life looking for a hip replacement.
 
Jacob knows God, and God knows Jacob. And if God had a resume, Jacob would be a personal reference.
 
God is, in fact, who God says he is: a mountain-mover, earth-shaker, fortress, refuge and strength. And Jacob and his tribe know it.

Again, back to our question: In such a troubled world, can we really believe that “The LORD of hosts is with us” (v. 7), a very present help in trouble?

Yes, is the psalmist’s advice: Be still and know that I AM God. In other words: Shut up and listen. If you do, you will know that I am God (v. 10)

In order to trust God as a rock and refuge in your life you must know him: God's character and nature, as well as your relationship to him. Know the one you trust.

There was a group of botanists who were searching for a rare flower in the Himalayas. Upon finding the desired plant on the side of a steep cliff, they offered a bribe to a young boy if he would let them lower him over the cliff to retrieve the plant.

The young boy told the botanists to wait a few minutes and he ran home. He returned a little while later with an older man and said that, if they let his father hold onto the rope, he would permit them to lower him over the side of the cliff.
 
Be still and know that I am God: experientially as well as intellectually.
 
The imagery of Psalm 46, as many of the psalms, is a set of symbols commonly called “Divine Warrior Imagery.” In this set of images, YHWH takes on the same powers and qualities of the high gods of near nations like Canaan.
 
The scene of God’s habitation being at the source of a river with two streams is the common view of where El the high God of Canaan, lives.
 
However, the name Elyon, translated “the Most High,” is imagery common to the Canaanite storm god Baal, as seen in the image of God melting the earth with his voice and controlling the earth’s warriors.

Nonetheless, there is no question of confusingYHWH/Elohim and these common foreign deities.
Israel believed that all power which other nations attributed to their multiple gods was resident in the one true God of Jacob. YHWH/Elohim is the true “LORD of hosts,” or “Commander of the heavenly armies.”
 
No other god, nor the army of any nation of any other god, can challenge Jacob’s God, who is both as wise and as ancient as El and as mighty a supernatural warrior as Baal. They are imitations only, and before YHWH/Elohim all other peoples and gods should fall silent.
 
One last time, let's go back to our question: In such a troubled world, can we really believe that “The LORD of hosts is with us” (v. 7), a very present help in trouble?
 
Late in the year 2001, our nation and our lives were rocked to the core. Everything that seemed solid was shaken.

The twin towers of the
WorldTradeCenter.
The Pentagon.
Symbols of American strength and stability,
taken out by terrorist attack.
 
Our lives were shaken -- those lost and those changed forever by the four homicidal jet crashes of 9 - 11.
Through a network of connections that unite us as families and friends and acquaintances across this country, every one of us has been affected by the devastation of that day. It's something we'll never forget.
MartinLutherKing once said, "We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly." The uncertainties of our times, of any time in history, can make us feel defenseless.

And so we mourn -- mourn the fatalities and the casualties, as well as our own loss of innocence. As a nation, we have been attacked, and will never feel completely safe again.

And yet, Psalm 46 reminds us, "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea" ... though jets should crash ... though buildings should crumble ... though countless lives should be lost.

The psalm goes on to promise that God is in the midst of the city, and that God will help it when the morning dawns. Although the nations are in an uproar and the kingdoms totter, God remains in control. "The Lord of hosts is with us," claims this song of faith, "the God of Jacob is our refuge."

In times of trouble, we go to the ground ... to the solid ground that is our creating, redeeming, and sustaining Lord.

At times like this, we land on the firmest of foundations, the mighty fortress that is our God.

It's the only place of any strength and stability. Amen. Let us pray . . .


 
 
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